Keeping the stove burning: From selling fruits to shoes, daily wagers say the Pandemic has hit them hard

Struggling working classes are switching jobs to survive 

Srinagar: Pushing his fruit-laden cart through the streets of the semi-urban outskirts in Srinagar, Bilal Ahmad is finding it hard to earn a living. With fewer customers and lower margins for him selling melons, Bilal says he is struggling.

“I used to earn Rs 800 every day by selling tea to customers at my Dhaba in Dalgate, but the present situation has rendered me jobless. To keep my family from going hungry, I am doing this now. It earns me a meagre sum of Rs 300 a day,” rues Dhaba owner turned cart fruit vendor Bilal.

Mushtaq Ahmad, a transporter turned fruit and vegetable vendor, has a similar story to tell.

The clampdown post-August 5, 2019, and now the lockdown, has rendered him and thousands of his likes jobless. Since public transport has been hit, thousands of transporters like him are finding it difficult to survive.

Now, Mushtaq along with his conductor Nayeem, has turned his Tata-407 passenger bus into a mobile shop selling fruits and vegetables in Srinagar city.

“It is better to earn a small amount of Rs 100 to 200 a day than to sit idle,” the driver-conductor duo turned fruit and vegetable vendors say.

Like Mushtaq and Nayeem, many others have turned towards jobs that can help them keep food on the table.

Daily labourers and workers in the unorganized sector throughout the world have been hit due to the Pandemic and the governmental response to this health emergency that expects people to stay home. But those who earn their living on a day-to-day basis, say this is not doable for them.

While the government decided to unlock, where public transport like autorickshaws and passenger buses are allowed to ply on the roads with half of the passenger capacity and following physical distancing norms, there is little movement on the roads.

Shalimar-Harwan route in Srinagar, which used to witness almost 400 cabs plying daily, now has only a few cabs operating, because of lack of passengers and high-cost of operations.

Bashir Ahmad who used to drive a Sumo cab on the same route has now turned towards painting.

“Since the lockdown relaxation, I am working with a group of local painters. Driving a Sumo cab in these times is not profitable and it is risky,” he says.

Zahoor, who used to work as an orderly in a private school in HMT area of Srinagar has switched to selling clothes on a pushcart around the villages and hamlets of Ganderbal district.

With no schools since March 12 this year, when the authorities in Jammu & Kashmir announced the closure of all educational institutions, a large number of people working in privately run educational institutions are also without wages or salaries.

Workers employed in the tourism sector follow a similar pattern.

Ashiq Hussain, a resident of Dal Lake area in Srinagar has switched his job from ferrying tourists around the Dal Lake in his Shikara, to selling low price footwear on a mobile load carrier.

“In the absence of any tourist or locals due to the prevailing situation, I along with my cousin have rented a load carrier to sell shoes at different sites in Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal. We are living hand to mouth,” Ashiq says.

The trend of switching jobs and occupations is not limited to the capital city of Srinagar only. In rural and far-flung areas, workers who used to be engaged in private offices, showrooms, hotels, restaurants in the cities and towns have stayed back in their villages and engaged themselves in agricultural chores, and it doesn’t look like it will get better any time soon.


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